Filmmaking

23Mar

Video Marketing for Startups, Tech-or-Otherwise

Image from the inimitable Robert

Image from the inimitable Robert

My agency has been lucky enough to have created videos for some truly exciting startups- myLanguage, with their Vocre app that won TechCrunch, being one of them. As I’ve worked with startups to tell their stories, I’ve learned a few things. And today I’ll share some of that hard-won knowledge with you.

Production Quality Still Matters

First, your video’s production quality still matters, even if you’re a startup. You cannot expect the public to put your video in context (“Hey! We’re a startup! Cut us some slack!”). People don’t care what your video’s budget was. They don’t care if you had to produce it under tremendous pressure. They’ll just judge the video- and your product/service- like they judge any video marketing. Meaning your competition these days is TV. Does your video look like it could be played on TV?

You Never Know Who Will See It

You never know who’s going to see your video. Yes, it’s important to try and figure out to whom your video should appeal- to figure out your audience. But a lot of the time, despite all the hard work you put in to define your audience, you won’t be able to account for every possibility. It’s in the nature of video marketing that your video will be shared and seen by audiences you may not have expected.

I learned this on our first promo video for Vocre, when the app became so insanely successful that for a few days local news throughout the USA and Canada played clips from our little promo video on the nightly news. Wow! Imagine my surprise, seeing our little video on screens that connected to millions of North Americans. Luckily, we put a lot of love and effort into the video.

Be Realistic With Your Budget

I get approached all the time by startups who tell me they want to shoot in midtown Manhattan or Beverly Hills, and they want 10 actors and 5 locations in their videos. And their budget is $3,000. Seriously, I get these calls and emails almost every day from well-intentioned CMOs and Marketing Managers.

You have to be realistic with your video. If you don’t have $50,000+ to make your promo, you need your video agency to find ways to creatively tell your story, within financial constraints. That’s OK, we do it ALL THE TIME. But… ditch the Cecil B. DeMille, Old-Hollywood ideas. You cannot have a cast of thousands and locations around the world, if you’re on a budget.

Remember, Story Trumps Everything

Here’s the biggest secret of all: even if you’re a well-funded startup willing to spend $100K+ on your video (we love you guys), if your story sucks the video will fail. I always get leery when a company approaches us with a fully-realized script, and “just” wants us to execute their vision. Those projects invariably fail.

No matter your budget, your video’s story is paramount: it has to grab your audience, and get them to take time from their busy day to learn more about you, and possibly even purchase your app/product/service. That’s a tall order.

Even if you’re a super-awesome marketing whiz,  you need a creative agency that truly understands video storytelling. Not merely a video production company. You need a partner who can work with your concepts and ideas, and make them better. Before the cameras start rolling. A partner who can make the most of what you have, budget and resource-wise, and help you come up with a story that truly engages your audience and incites them to take action.


Me-BlogPatrick is the founder of Los Angeles and New York City based PatrickOrtman, Inc., a creative video agency that has won a ton of ADDY and Telly awards, worked with 9 Fortune 500s (and tons of startups), and been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Toronto Star, USA Today, and many other print and online publications in the advertising and other industries.

14Mar

The Skinny on Camera Formats: Raw, ProRes, H264, and Why It Matters for Your Commercial or Video

Why should you, as a business owner, chief marketing officer, or advertising agency creative care about what format your TV commercial, promotional video, or company/corporate video is shot on? I mean, video’s video, right?

Nope.

You’ll find a few flavors of video formats out there that video production companies and video agencies use to capture the footage for your videos. From highest to lowest quality, they are:

  • Raw
  • ProRes with a log or flat profile
  • H264 (what most DSLRs use)

Among these three types of footage, there’s a lot of sub-types. But that’s for another day. Let’s talk about when and why you’d choose any of these options, starting with the worst choice.

The worst choice of video format is H264, which is used by most DSLRs.

H264 is a very heavily-compressed format. This means you cannot push the image in post-production very much, without the image falling apart. Why is this bad? Because a vital part of making a commercial or video look like it’s a huge-budgeted national-quality spot is the magic we add in post-production.  The color-grading. The finishing. When you try to really dive in with H264 video and polish it, you can only do so much. And that sucks.

A step up is ProRes with a log profile. ProRes is a higher-quality video format that a lot of professional cameras and recording devices can capture in, today. It’s a professional-level format. You can do a lot with this footage, because it’s not so heavily compressed like H264. And if it’s captured in log format (an article for another day), you get reasonable flexibility in post-production. A lot of your local news, and some national spots are done in ProRes.

The best quality is Raw. There’s lots of types of Raw, but for today we’ll talk about the kind of Raw that the RED Digital Cinema cameras and Arri Alexa cameras can deliver. These are the platinum standard in the production world, and these two cameras are responsible for most of the national TV commercials, TV shows, and feature films that you see. Professionals choose these cameras and Raw format when they can, because it means you get tremendous flexibility in post-production to polish the look of your video.

There’s a time and place for every tool in the toolbox. Wanna guess which one we use the most? Raw, of course.

 

6Feb

Getting In Early

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(This picture has nothing to do with this post, it’s just a frame from my NYC RED Dragon, and I like it)

I’ve always been the guy who gets in early. I had a real paper route when I was in grade school. I’d get up at 4:30am, get the papers delivered, feed the animals, and go to school. I enjoyed getting in early, because it meant by the time everyone else was moving around, I had a pretty good handle on what I’d have to do for the day, and I felt accomplished and prepared.

I’m the same way today, both personally and with client projects. Even for the most pedestrian-seeming corporate video, I like to get in early. I like to learn about the client, and what makes them tick. I like to learn about their business sector, and competition. I love learning about context and the world in which this video project will live or die.

After I’ve learned as much as I can, I can’t help but start thinking about ways I can help these clients tell their stories in the best way possible- that is, in ways that get results.

I encourage everyone on my team to think and act like this. Yes, it demands a lot more effort to get involved so early. But the rewards are tremendous for our clients, and, usually, for us.

 

 

31Jan

Giving Thanks To My Awesome Crew

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I work with two of the best film crews, ever. One in Los Angeles, and one in New York, with some swing members that go between the coasts, and a couple of hardy souls who travel all over the world with me on assignment.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with this fantastic group of men and women who are more than hard-working: they are consummate pros, loyal, passionate about their crafts, and they always work for the good of the project- not their egos. It doesn’t matter if we’re doing a film, a tv commercial, or a corporate video: they always bring their “A” game.

These people are not merely my friends- they’re family. They don’t get the spotlight as much as the actors, or even as much as me. But they’re always there, kicking ass. And I am grateful. In no particular order, thank you Aaron (happy birthday!), Matt, Greg, Ernest, Gabriela, Laura, Rai, Nate, Crystal, Johnny, Anna, Katie, Tom (congrats on that Oscar nomination!), Jen, Martin, David, Andy, Jessica, Joshannes, Griff, Lani, Alex, Chad, and Jason.

We’re gonna keep kicking ass in 2015.

 

 

29Dec

NYC Film Production Adventures

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I feel bad. I really let the blog slide for awhile. Well, I’ve had my reasons. And one is a new short film I directed in New York City. It’s called “New York Love Story”, and it’s about a woman coming to terms with a breakup, and the city of NY showing her that the possibilities of life are truly limitless.

This is my first writer-director-producer film since “Unlaced” a couple of years back, so it’s a big deal to me. I can’t believe 2 YEARS have passed since “Unlaced”! I’ve been insanely busy with life, and work, so it was fantastic to jump back into a film. No offense to our commercial and corporate video clients- we love you, too. But it’s good to stretch, and doing a film lets one scratch a certain itch one cannot otherwise scratch.

So, here’s how it happened- I was in New York, and after a series of really swell meetings with clients, I had some downtime. I also had my RED Dragon, a few lenses, one light (a VisualBuddha LED), and a newly-purchased DJI Ronin. I also had my NYC apartment, and Manhattan. Most importantly, however, I had my friend and former costar of “Unlaced” in town- Joanne Ryan!

I sat down, and figured out a story that I could shoot, based around these resources. I wrote a script, and sent it to my LA writer’s group. After some great feedback, I decided- what the hell. Let’s make a movie!

It was a fantastic experience. First, Joanne and I got Broadway and Television actor Sean McDermott to play the male lead. He’s wonderful! And I know I’ll work with him again. Second, I called up my buddies Chad and Jason, and begged them to crew the film for me. They agreed, we found an excellent NYC makeup artist Lani Barry, and we were off to the races.

NY Loves Film was truly helpful in securing locations and answering questions I had (this was my very first real film in NYC, after all), and the City of New York also really helped us out. Despite 30 degree (15 degree windchill) days, and one weather delay, it all came together gloriously, and I’m really excited to get into post production on this one.

I’ll post a lot more about the film later on, but right now I’m in post on a client project in LA, and they have a very quick turnaround on their project. Thank you to all who helped on this one- you guys are my go-tos, now!

15Oct

Why We Sold Our Canon C-Series Cameras and Bought Another RED (dragon)

There’s a really good blog post by Dave Wallace on why he sold his RED and bought a C100. Interestingly, I’ve gone the complete opposite way, selling our Canon and buying another RED. You can read Dave’s article here.

Back? Great!

Our story… back in 2007/2008, we took delivery of one of the very first RED One cameras. Up until that time, I’d been shooting with a variety of cameras, starting with the Panasonic DVX-100 and getting to the HVX-200. We used a bunch of frankenstein-like 35mm adapters with these cameras, because we were always about quality- and those cameras’ tiny sensors made everything look quite “video-y” without the 35mm adapters. When Jim Jannard introduced RED, I was sold. It was groundbreaking, and although the production process wouldn’t be as easy with the RED as with the Panasonic DVX-200, the huge jump in quality was worth it.

Unlike Dave, we didn’t start out on DSLRs, and so our tripods, steadicam, jib, and so forth were all “RED-ready”.  And we’d always done things film-style, with separate audio and camera people. After all, I’m from Hollywood.

Our RED One paid for itself in only two jobs. And we started getting better quality jobs, too- this is when my company got to jump up from “corporate video only” to “and TV commercials”. We did a series of TV commercials that won awards for their creativity as well as overall quality, all shot on RED.

But then, RED came out with Scarlet-X. I got one. I didn’t like it. It was loud, and its image was no better than the RED One MX. In some ways, it was worse (frame rates, no 4.5K). Realizing that the RED One was obsolete no matter what, we sold our RED and looked at replacements.

For awhile, we just rented Arri Alexas or REDs when we needed the highest quality images. But our in-house go-to camera became the C100 with Atomos Ninja2 recorder. And it was fine, for awhile- certainly the workflow was easier.

But the images… don’t stack up. Maybe for a lot of jobs, it doesn’t matter. But to me, given our mission statement… it mattered. I’m not saying you cannot create fantastic images on the Canon. We certainly did that. I’m super proud of a few projects in particular, where we really pushed the tech to its limits. But the flexibility in post (despite the additional work needed) and the flat-out advantages to more resolution just weren’t there with Canon (even Philip Bloom shoots in 4K for corporate interviews- these advantages matter. By the way, Philip sold his own C300 recently).

What I loved about the Canon: workflow, an ‘all-in-one’ camera out of the box, and the ability to shoot in less light (although I never used that).

And the Canon made me lazy. It was easy to “sort of” get the shot without taking the time to think things through or to bother really lighting things.

What’s worst is, it made me and my team feel like plain old corporate videographers. Not filmmakers. After all, the C100 is meant for wedding videographers. And clients were not as impressed and therefore didn’t always treat us or the project with the excitement we saw when we’d bring in a RED or Alexa. Perception matters.

As does Raw. One day, I got my hands on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera, and went out on the streets of New York City to play with it at night. I got home, and fired up my Mac Pro, and immediately was amazed at how much I could tweak the images more than the Canon imagery. I’d forgotten how much of an advantage shooting in Raw was. Now, the Blackmagic isn’t going to replace anyone’s main camera. But it did make me think, this is something I’ve been desperately missing in my year without RED.

To be fair, unlike a lot of other shops I’ve always been deep into the geeky side of things in post- we’re a full-on VFX house, and we have two DaVinci stations, here, not to mention ProTools and all the other expensive software and hardware that you’d normally find in companies 5 times our size. Quality matters, and we only go after projects where we can deliver quality to clients who appreciate that. We’re basically a mini-feature film studio, so we have always had the tools and pipeline to make it happen. But that’s us- and we’re not every production studio. If you’re not an excellent colorist and know how to run the big toys, RED probably isn’t the camera system for you.

Meanwhile, RED came out with its new Dragon sensor. It looks fantastic, and the new cameras solved my beefs with the first batches of Scarlets and Epics.

So, I bought one.

Is it the be-all-end-all camera? No. No camera is. But for our shop, which mainly does web and TV commercials, along with story-driven corporate films and narrative projects, it’s ideal for 90% of the jobs we do. If we did mostly docs, we’d go another way (such as C300 or even Sony- which we rent when doing documentary-style shoots).

In the end, choosing a camera is a very specific and unique process for everyone. What worked for Dave didn’t work for us- it actually worked against us. Our year without RED really helped me to understand who we are as a shop, and what makes us different than other production companies.

And that’s a good thing.

 

 

9Oct

Let’s Talk Video Production Budgets

The almighty dollar

For some reason, a lot of video production companies and creative agencies don’t like talking about budgets until late in the game. That’s not how we work. In fact, one of our very first questions we ask clients is “what’s your budget for this project?”.

There’s two very good reasons why we are upfront about money when speaking with a prospective client:

  • Budget drives scope. If a client comes to us and says “I have $XXX to spend”, we can set expectations immediately, and come up with creative directions that make the most of what they have. It’s like buying a house- how weird would it be if a buyer came to an architect and said “I want a house!” and the architect had no direction from the buyer on their overall budget? When you’re buying a house, your budget helps determine how big the house is, where it’s built, and how nice the finishings are. An architect wouldn’t randomly create blueprints for you without having an idea of the parameters in which he must work. Nor will we.
  • It weeds out tire-kickers. If you can’t even say approximately what your budget is for a project, it’s not a real project, yet. If someone wants to get a rough feel for how working with us would be in the future, great. We’ll talk to you for 5 minutes on the phone, we’ll even give you some sample budget ranges, maybe. But we will not make up proposals for clients whose projects do not yet exist.

Our overall philosophy about “the money talk” is this: our time is our most valuable asset. We don’t want you to waste our time, and we don’t want to waste yours. So, being honest and upfront about budgets from our very first contact is a very important thing.

Interestingly, most sophisticated clients embrace our approach, and that has made us a very in-demand agency in both New York and Los Angeles.

22Aug

Camera News: The RED Dragon Breathes Fire @ PatrickOrtman, Inc.

 

Red-Epic

 

I (Patrick) was an early adopter with RED. I bought my first RED camera in 2007- one of the first RED ONE cameras available, and of course RED’s groundbreaking cameras went on to film ‘The Social Network’, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’,  ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, ‘The Hobbit’, and so forth. I loved giving my clients the high-end services we could with RED. And I loved shooting our award-winning film ‘Unlaced’ with it.

Then, we had  period of time where it didn’t make sense for us to own an in-house RED. We rented them, though, for clients who wanted the ultra-high-res imagery. I missed RED’s technology on the jobs where the clients chose other camera systems, sometimes- the RED’s ability to shoot Raw, 4K film-style video is something that really helps on a lot of jobs. Even so, it wasn’t the best choice for every job, and it was VERY expensive, so we invested in other camera systems.

Now, RED’s come out with DRAGON, their latest-generation sensor. This thing is amazing! It’s light-years ahead of our old RED MX camera. It gave me one of those ‘oh, my!’ moments, when you realize that the technology in your hot little hands can create images that you’d only dreamed of until then.

And our business has grown, to where we’re working with more of the higher-end advertising agencies and clients on a regular basis. You know, the kinds of clients who want ‘the best’. Disclaimer: the RED Dragon’s not ‘the best’ for every job. But it’s ‘the best’ for a lot of them, if you have the budget in your project to support it.

So, I decided to get one for ourselves, as our in-house high-end cinema camera system. This way, we get the advantage of having it all the time, which lets my team master it (like we did with the R1) in ways you just cannot if you rent. And, we can now offer this level of imagery to clients who otherwise couldn’t afford it. We’ll still do a lot of jobs on our other, more affordable camera systems. But this lets us compete even more strongly with the ‘big guys’.

I’m really excited!

 

18Jun

Two More Telly Wins for PatrickOrtman, Inc.

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We’re pleased to announce that we’ve won yet another two Telly awards for our video production work. These two are for our 2013 project for MPAC in Los Angeles called “American Muslims, America’s Leaders”, which celebrated MPAC’s 25 year anniversary.

The project was written and directed by Patrick Ortman, and MPAC’s executive producer was Hasnain Syed. Special thanks to Jessica Rothert, and the MPAC staff and volunteers.

The concept behind the video was to imagine how American Muslims would be seen, 25 years from now. We imagined a world where American Muslims are an even more vibrant part of our country’s political, artistic, and corporate landscape.

“I did some thinking about my own heritage- especially the Irish part of me” says writer-director Patrick Ortman “and I realized that when the Irish came over to America, it took some time for them to really become known as a strong part of our country. It’s the same for any group. And America’s this amazing place, because we’re the melting-pot. We all have strengths and points of view that can make us stronger, that make our country better. I wanted to show this process in the American Muslim community, which is a community a lot of us don’t know much about, and one filled with stereotypes.”

Patrick teamed up with Oscar-winning special effects makeup house B2 Productions in Hollywood to help realize his vision. “Those guys, wow- it was fantastic watching them take our 20-something MPAC interns and turn them into middle-aged people. I’m glad we reached out to them, and I’m grateful they took the time to do the job right. Of course, I spent some time wandering around their shop and taking in the amazing body of work they’ve done. You have to, right? I mean, they did Mr. Spock’s ears!”

MPAC’s Hasnain Syed adds “Going into this project, we wanted to make a bold statement on our vision of the future and a manifestation of America’s diversity as it’s core strength. To achieve this, both the message and visuals had to be impactful and visionary, without leaning on recycled ideas.

We had to turn to Patrick as our partner in bringing this vision into fruition. From the start, he told us to throw technical & budgetary limitations out the window and just think big. A great partner is one who keeps his eye on the project’s overall vision and emotional impact, without letting details detract from the end goal.

In Patrick, we have someone to imagine with, not someone who just executes or takes directions. If there’s a better way, or a different approach, he’ll say it.

MPAC works to make American Muslims a positive, integral and contributing member in America’s fabric. The video is a reflection of our work and it’s fruits in the future.”

These Telly awards come on the heels of Patrick’s Telly and ADDY-winning TV commercial “Meet Biff” for the Paffrath Organization

Both winning videos are also online at http://patrickortman.com

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